Melissa Ohden, wife and mother to two girls, is a pro-life advocate, author and speaker. She gives us a glimpse into her experience of discovering she survived an abortion, and her resulting quest for truth
In 1977, Melissa’s 19-year-old mother had a saline-infused abortion that was believed to be successful until Melissa’s tiny body, weighing just 3lb, was found among medical waste at the hospital. Against the odds she survived.
At the age of 14 Melissa discovered this shocking truth about her story; a truth that would change the course of her life.
A crushing reality
Melissa had always known she was adopted. It was part of her narrative, and for the most part she was OK with it. “Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my parents were so incredibly steady in their love,” she reflects. “Their love was fed by God and they embraced a simplicity of faith that later contributed to me knowing my worth and having a boldness to live out God’s path for me.”
Despite facing all the usual mess and complexities of the teenage years, Melissa knew that she was wanted by God: “In his story we’re all adopted; we’re all in the same boat.” She was just a regular teenage girl, living a normal life in a small town in Iowa. Until one afternoon in 1991.
“Me and my sister were arguing about something. I can’t remember what it was about but we were really mad. And then my sister yelled: ‘At least my parents wanted me.’ It put an end to the fight, but I was really confused. What did she mean? We were both adopted. How was she any more wanted than me? What was she saying about my birth parents? What did she know?”
Melissa waited for her mum to come home to ask her what was going on. In the wait every scenario went through her mind, except the one her mum went on to tell her: she was the survivor of a botched abortion.
Part of me
Life went on and, while Melissa was good at adopting a perfect façade on the outside, internally she was struggling with the crushing reality that she hadn’t been wanted.
“I struggled with alcohol problems and an eating disorder; trying to forget and trying to control. I never questioned God’s presence and goodness. I knew that his truth was more than me; more than my experiences and more than my pain. But I distanced myself from him.” Melissa craved the unconditional love of God, but found accepting and claiming this love for herself surprisingly hard to do. “I was no longer in the same boat as everyone else, and there was no going back.”
I struggled with alcohol problems and an eating disorder; trying to forget and trying to control
She knew she needed to integrate the reality that she was an abortion survivor into her story, allowing this new piece of the puzzle to flow into her past and present, and shape who she was becoming. But to do this she had to know more. So in 1996, aged 19, Melissa began a quest to find her birth parents and hear their side of the story.
In pursuit of truth
The years passed – Melissa gained a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s; she got married and started a career in social work. Eventually, in 2007 aged 30, she obtained her medical records, which gave her the most significant piece of the puzzle – her parents’ names.
Melissa’s father was living less than an hour from her home in Sioux City, Iowa. She took her time; driving by his house and absorbing his life from a distance. In an attempt to connect gently – aware he had a partner and children – she sent a letter to his office. “I never heard back,” Melissa shares. “The discouragement I felt was so deep. I had to choose faith over despair, and drown out the enemy shouting ‘unwanted’ with the Father’s intimate whisper: ‘I wanted you so much I gave my life for you.’”
I was desperate to see something of myself in her…but I looked nothing like her
Despite the crushing disappointment, Melissa continued pursuing her birth family, eventually discovering her maternal grandparents. This time she did get a reply. “My grandfather was brutally honest in admitting that my life was not intended and that my grandmother had been the force behind the attempted abortion.” Enclosed with the letter was a picture of Melissa’s birth mother: “I stared at it,” she remember. “I was desperate to see something of myself in her…but I looked nothing like her. It was a poignant moment; a challenge to accept that my life’s path, my meaning, was not going to be found in her. I had a different calling on my life.”
Towards the end of that year and into 2008 – amid a whirlwind journey of discovery and loss that you can read more of in Melissa’s first book You Carried Me – she took a step of faith, beginning to speak publicly about her experience. One day in 2010, as she discussed her story with a presenter on national TV, one of her maternal cousins sat watching. Recognising who Melissa was, her cousin reached out in an email, asking if Melissa wanted to know more about her past.
“This ‘more’ to my story was not what I’d expected. My birth mother never knew I’d survived. I’d been taken away at birth and she had been led to believe that the abortion was successful, until other family members who had kept this a secret for over 30 years spotted me on TV and put two and two together.” In another God-ordained coincidence, Melissa’s mother lived in Kansas City, Missouri – the very city she had just moved to with her husband and young family.
For years Melissa and her mother exchanged emails, texts and calls. “I wanted to respect how she might be feeling,” Melissa explains. “I wanted her to know I loved her and that I’d begun the long process of healing and forgiveness years before we were connected. But this was something I could only truly demonstrate in person. So I asked if she wanted to meet.”
Meeting face to face in May 2016 was a surreal, poignant encounter that marked the start of a growing, healing relationship. “The woman who carried me is a significant part of my life again; a miracle only God could have orchestrated. I don’t see God’s fingerprints on my life. I see his handprints. I never could have imagined the life I live now.”
For the past 16 years Melissa has been devoted to the pro-life movement; becoming an advocate for the unborn, a voice of hope for abortion survivors and their families, and a builder of bridges to those with different opinions. “It was God’s plan, not mine; redeeming my story to bring hope in the most unexpected places.”
Read more of Melissa’s story in her book You Carried Me (Plough Publishing House). You can pre-order her next book Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence (Focus on the Family), due to be published in January. Visit Melissa’s website: melissaohden.com.
Words by Jane Knoop